After India’s World Cup semifinal loss to New Zealand at Old Trafford, Virat Kohli was asked if MS Dhoni has informed the team about his future. “No, he hasn’t told us anything about his future,” the Indian captain responded.
Speculation about the former India captain’s international future has been rife since — whether he will be part of the limited overs leg of the upcoming West Indies tour starting August 3, or he will call time on his glorious career. The first official word on that since July 10 was expected from the selection committee chairman MSK Prasad on Friday, as squad selection for the Caribbean tour was scheduled in Mumbai. But it has been postponed and the official BCCI communication said an update will come, “with details of the meeting once it is finalised”.
As far as Dhoni is concerned, it is learnt that the national selectors no longer see him as part of the Indian team’s future scheme of things in 50 overs cricket. Chief selector Prasad is likely to have a word with the veteran wicketkeeper-batsman ahead of the selection meeting. Till Thursday afternoon, though, no conversation had taken place.
Dhoni is 38 years old and very unlikely to last in top-flight cricket till the next World Cup that will be played in India in 2023. With an eye on the future, the selectors, according to a source, want to groom his replacement. In Rishabh Pant, India have a ready replacement available for Dhoni, at least in terms of talent. But the left-hander requires adequate game time to be ready and experienced enough for the next World Cup. The Indian team will benefit if Pant can capitalise on the opportunities.
“Selectors can never tell a player when to retire. That would be overstepping their brief. But to pick a player or not to remains their prerogative. When Dhoni was the captain, he used to stress upon the fact that a young player should have 60-70 ODIs under his belt before going into a World Cup,” the source told this paper.
According to him, the matter related to T20 cricket is a little different. The next World T20 will be played in Australia next year and usually the selectors focus on the IPL to pick Indian squads for T20 Internationals. Dhoni is expected to play the next year’s IPL and he remains a key player for Chennai Super Kings apart from captaining the franchise. Even in this year’s IPL, he was CSK’s leading run-scorer, with 416 runs from 15 matches at a strike rate north of 134.
In Indian cricket, however, selectors don’t always have the last word on selection issues when superstars are involved. In 2011-2012, India had suffered Test whitewashes in England and Australia — 4-0 and 4-0 respectively. After the Test series defeat in Australia, the then selection committee decided to sack Dhoni as captain, appointing a younger skipper instead for the following triangular series.
Mohinder Amarnath, the 1983 World Cup hero, was the chief selector then and he reportedly proposed the motion. But then BCCI president N Srinivasan vetoed, preventing a change of guard. The old BCCI constitution had a provision that allowed the cricket board president to overrule any selection committee decision.
“The Board president did not approve the unanimous decision to replace Mahendra Singh Dhoni. We selected the team for the triangular series, selected 17 players but we did not select the captain. The captain was selected by somebody else,” Amarnath later said.
The way things panned out, Amarnath became the fall guy, as he was removed from the selection panel at the next AGM.
Another example was a top-order batsman’s entry to the Indian squad for the 2014 Test series in England. A phone call from an influential person with close link to the BCCI was said to have paved the way for the player’s selection. The selectors were all but helpless.
In fact, this is an age-old problem in Indian cricket. During the 1958-59 home series against West Indies, the Indian team had four different captains in five Tests. Wisden chronicled the whole backroom drama.
So, it will be interesting to see what lies ahead for Dhoni, with all options open.
When contacted, Dilip Vengsarkar puts the onus on the present selection committee and the team management, with regards to whether Dhoni should be part of India’s ODI plans for the future. “That’s a call which the selectors and the Indian team management will have to take. I’m not talking (specifically) about Dhoni, but it depends on the form and fitness of that particular player. His usefulness to the team and his motivation level… These factors are very important,” Vengsarkar told The Indian Express, adding: “You have to think about the future as well.”
The ex-India captain, who was the chief selector when Dhoni became India’s captain in T20 and ODIs, spoke about the importance of creating options. “See, the thing is that we have to create replacements. We have to create options. They (selectors) haven’t sort of searched for options also. I’m not talking about Dhoni, I’m talking in general that you need to have options to ensure smooth transition,” he said.